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Friday, December 30, 2011

And Another! (Book Cover)

My friend and fellow writer J.R. Murdock, author of such great books as V & A Shipping, Billy BarbarianAstel, and a great collection of short stories called Murdockian Tales, asked me to create a cover for one of his new short stories called Grandpa's Little Red Barn. As of the date of this post it is currently free so snag it while you can. Also, those first two titles are available for free in audio and I highly recommend them. They're very entertaining romps, a great time. Some other covers for this great author are in the works - you'll see more on that in later posts in early 2012. I'll just say he's going to be busy cranking out lots of fiction next year. I'm excited. Next year will be the year of my debut novel and I have plans to also release a novella. Yes 2012 is going to be a great year for fresh fiction my friends. For this cover I was happy that J.R. had a clear vision of what he wanted. He knew what he wanted the font to look like, where everything should go, and he even provided the photo I used. I desaturated it a bit so it was no longer stop sign red, and then snagged some of the front wall to create the "RED" text in the story title text. It was fun and we both like how it turned out. I'm really excited for another cover I'm doing for him which is much more involved and included several painted illustrations to make the final image. It's going to be awesome!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

I Made Another eBook Cover

I did a cover for my friend Scott Roche. He's the first one to ever give me a crack at making an eBook cover, and since his first request I've been happy to do a few more for him and some eBook artwork for others. I love making art and if any of you need an eBook cover I'd be happy to give you a smokin' deal, or even trade for it. With Scott, I asked him to be a beta reader for my novel when it's done. He was happy to do it and I'm really glad to have him as one of my beta readers. On this cover I'll say that Scott had a clear idea of what he wanted which made my job very easy. An artist can ask for nothing more than a client with a clear idea of what they want. He gave me a few pictures to choose from and told me what he wanted. I picked the photo with the best composition. I found an image of an envelope, erased out the text on it and made my own new text on it. Then I added some lighting effects to it to make it blend in with the scene better. The folder didn't take up all of the space in the bottom of the picture so I copied some of the pavement, enlarged it and placed it over the blank space to make it look like the walkway kept coming towards you. I think it's a fun and awesome cover. It makes me want to read the story. Does it do the same for you? If so you can name your price and pick up a copy of the eBook in any format you need right here: Operation Barghest

Monday, December 12, 2011

Great Resources for Writers

If you're like me, you probably have several writing books on your shelf. You read them and revisit them and take notes from them and highlight them. Then when you're writing you try and remember what they said about something you're working on. The best is when you read something to watch out for in your writing, like using adverbs, and then go back to your writing to find it all over the place. Been there? While the best way to become a better writer is to do just that and write, there are some things that can turn on a light bulb and speed along the process of making you a better writer. Tools for your tool belt you can use when crafting your fiction. I have discovered that the writing itself isn't the hard part, but coming up with a great story can be a lot of work. One of my favorite things to do and something I really enjoy, but a lot of work. The two books I got the most out of are:

  1. On Writing
    by Steven King
So if you haven't read those then you should pick them up and give them a read. You'll thank me for it. If you don't want to lay down some coin to get great writing advice, then I also have two awesome resources for you that are free.

The first is David Farland's Daily Kick in the Pants. You'll find the subscribe button on the upper right of the page. David emails you often with great writing advice. He is a veteran writer and what he has to say is worth reading. You should also check out the Writing Tips page on his website. David writes all kinds of stuff in many genres, but he's most famous for his fantasy Runelords series.

The other resource I've come to love is from Michael J. Sullivan, one of my favorite new epic fantasy authors. He has been giving writing advice every week on his blog. A lot of it has helped me and the way he writes makes it fun. If you haven't read the first in his new Trilogy, then you owe it to yourself to read Theft of Swords. If you're not sure then check out a free short story in the same world he wrote called The Viscount and the Witch.

If you're still looking for more free resources to find great writing advice then check out my list of, you guessed it, "Great Writing Podcasts" located on the right column of my website. Thanks for stopping by, happy reading and happy writing!

Friday, December 9, 2011

A Free Christmas Story

Last year I wrote a fun little Christmas story, and recorded it. It's also available as a free eBook. It is still one of my favorite episodes. Find the audio story and eBook links in the post from last year. I have an idea for a story for this year, but I'm not sure if I can find time to write it and record it. It would be about the elf who comes along with Santa to help him eat all the cookies left out by children once Santa is too full to eat any more. It should be a fun little story if I can find time to write it. Until then, or if I can't get around to it - please enjoy my Christmas story from last year. Happy Holidays everyone!

Monday, November 28, 2011

Why I'm not Upset About Losing
NaNoWriMo for the First Time

This is my third time doing NaNoWriMo. Both of the other times I've had moments where I was pretty sure I wouldn't get to fifty thousand words by the 30th, but both times I pulled it off by the 28th. This year, however, I was almost certain. I am very pleased and surprised to tell you that this year I'm okay with not winning NaNoWriMo. Let me share with you my reasons.
  1. I did finish my NaNoWriMo novel, or should I say novella.
  2. I have three other completed novels that are still in their first drafts
As I was writing my NaNo novel this year it seemed that my story wasn't going to end up being fifty thousand words long. This has not been the case before. My last couple novels had thirty thousand some words to be written after I reached the 50K mark by November 30th. This time around I was at the midpoint of my novel and not even at 15K words yet. It ended up being a complete story at 24K words. I'm really excited to have a finished novella though, it seems to be a new length of choice for eBooks. A lot of people read on their phones, and having something shorter like that is becoming more desirable. I worked a lot on how to make the story work too, and even though my outline was sometimes just ahead of what I was writing, I once stopped for a couple days to nail down how I would get through Act II into the climax and I think it worked well. This little novella might be the first long form fiction I've ever written where I don't feel I need to go back and change a whole lot after finishing it. I'll get some beta readers on it and see if I'm way off base, but I don't think I'll have to do a ton of story revision like I am with my first three novels.

Another reason I am a bit relieved that I can move on from NaNoWriMo this year is that I'm almost halfway through revising my second NaNo novel, and once it's cleaned up it will be the first full novel I will podcast and self publish. I've been waiting a long time for this and if you look a couple blog posts down you'll see that I even have some spectacular cover art for it! I can't wait to get this novel in front of beta readers, and on podiobooks.com, Amazon, and the other online eBook retailers.

So yes I am a bit blue about not winning NaNoWriMo this year, but it's okay. I've got three other novels to get ready for publishing! It's time for a season of revising and rewriting!

Friday, November 11, 2011

How Self-publishing Liberated Me and My Story
A GUEST POST

By Dan Kolbet, Guest Blogger

When I decided to write my first book, it was one of those “you better do it now, or you’ll never do it” things. For years I had struggled to get my story out – any story for that matter. I’d start and stop, never really getting anywhere. So when the miracle happened and I actually finished Off The Grid, I thought the next steps would be cake. I would submit my wonderful manuscript to agents who would fall all over me with big piles of cash and a book deal.

That’s not exactly how it happened.

I followed the traditional steps of writing, editing and finalizing a manuscript. I ran the book past four beta readers, including Dan Absalonson who hosts this site. I had it edited by a copyeditor. It was ready for submission, or so I thought.

I spent weeks finalizing a query letter after learning the ropes and meeting some agents at the Pacific Northwest Writers Association conference in Bellevue, Wash. Some agents wanted just a query letter, while others wanted a 1-2 page synopsis or sample chapters. Every agent wanted something different. I spent about a month sending out 40 submissions – exactly the way they asked for them.

Experienced writers may say 40 submissions is a small number. You should have sent out more. I only picked agents that I actually wanted to represent me. I didn’t shotgun out my heart and soul to everyone who claimed to be an agent. I wanted a good one.

The rejections trickled in, but after two months of waiting and checking my email like a crazy person 20 times a day, I was tired of it. The waiting killed me. To me it meant that my work was being held hostage. It’s just a story after all – it needs to be told, not sitting in the inbox of some agent in New York.

The alternative to the gut-wrenching waiting and self-doubt was right in front of me the whole time. I knew self-publishing was Plan B. But I wanted to give the traditional route a try before I shifted course.

In early October I was in Coeur d’Alene Idaho at an event and I ran into a fellow author who I also saw at the PNWA conference back in August. She asked me about where I was with the book. She was probably the 200th person to ask me about it since I started querying. Without putting a lot of thought into what I was saying, I said that I was tired of waiting and was about the begin the process of self-publishing on Kindle, Nook and CreateSpace.

That decision sent me on a whole other journey to get a cover design and put my words into the format that Amazon and Barnes & Noble wanted. I could spend multiple posts on what that was like, but I’ll just say this – it wasn’t easy for a newbie. I get it now and feel that I’ve mastered it, but it was rough.

I’m so glad that I self-published. With the amount of thought and hard work that any first-time author puts into their work, it’s insane that we then cross our fingers and hope that an agent can then do a better job of publishing our story than we can. Sure, they’ve got some sort of mystical powers that no one quite understand, but I’m pretty damn mystical too.

The world has changed, people. Don’t let rejections get you down. You have a real alternative, you just have make the decision to feel good about your work.

Off The Grid is Dan Kolbet’s debut novel. The book is available on Kindle, Nook and in paperback through CreateSpace. Kolbet blogs at www.DanKolbet.com. I really enjoyed Dan's book when I read it as a beta reader. Grab a copy and support an awesome indie author, and once you've read it leave him a review. Thanks for stopping by the blog, which is now my main website. Hope you like the redesign.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

I Found Artwork for my first Novel!


I'm an artist. I can do 3D and Photoshop and all that stuff. I've created eBook covers for others. So of course I'm going to make my own book cover right? Well I was going to, but at this point in my life - I barely have time to write. So I've been surfing images at Deviantart.com for the past month or so, and I finally found THE image for my first novel release. The ship is somehow exaclty what I describe in my book. The perportions are dead on, there's a huge chuck of ship that's cargo area in the back - it's perfect! I asked Eric the artist if I could use his amazing artwork for the cover of my book. He said that I could, all I have to do is send him a copy of the book when it's done. I will send him a signed copy in the mail, and email him all the eBook formats. A small price to pay for his breathtaking piece of artwork to go on the front of my novel. Click on it to see it in a larger size. If you're interested you can see the process he went through to create this piece here, something I'm always interested in being an artist myself. So thank you Eric!

Monday, November 7, 2011

NaNoWriMo Update & The 7 Point System

I've been ahead of the curve on my word count for NaNoWriMo until this weekend. Last year I had my whole novel plotted and outlined. This year I knew the end and a couple other things, but have been constructing my outline as I write, barely staying ahead of what I'm writing. This weekend it all came to a standstill, and today I'm starting to figure out what to do to get my character from Act I to Act III. The main tool I've been using is a 7 Point Story Structure System from Dan Wells, published Tor author and co-host on my favorite writing podcast Writing Excuses. If you haven't heard about this story structure system, you really need to check it out. I has helped me figure out what was wrong with and finish the outline for every story I've written since I learned it. I'm still trying to get a better handle on what each of the seven story points are, but this system is such a great tool for constructing a story that I just have to mention it here. If you've run into a huge hippoplotamus like I have, then please check this out and use this amazing tool to find your way through your novel to the end.

You're very welcome :)

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

It's November which means NaNoWriMo!

This will be my third year doing NaNoWriMo. Now that I've won twice, I'm confident that even though it might be a crazy month, I will get 50,000 words of a novel written. I was going to write the sequal to the novel I've been trying to get ready for beta readers, but then I changed my mind. This is only my fourth novel ever attempted. While I write that I think, DANG! Four novels? That's awesome. Okay, so I'm starting my fourth novel. The point is, most people have to write five to ten novels before they can crank out something worth publishing. I'm really excited to see where this story goes. I have the character's end goal and most of the main story points, but the outline is being written just before the actual story. Hopefully I'll get ahead of that and finish the outline soon. Until then, I know the main story points and I'm truckin' along!

Monday, October 31, 2011

The House Sitter
(Bonus Halloween Episode)

Download the .mp3


When Tammy is house sitting, she get creeped out. She keeps hearing and seeing things in the dark corners of the mansion she is alone in. Then, she hears and sees something and this time it's not her imagination.

Now available for FREE in all eBook formats at Smashwords.com.

Bed Music Attribution:
http://www.freesound.org/people/thanvannispen/sounds/30274/

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

How It's Coming | Editing & Revising My Novel

A good friend and writer I look up to, J.R. Murdock, asked me on twitter how my editing was going and said he'd be curious to see examples of my changes. I give you the old and new beginning to my novel. My original tells you a lot about the character, but takes a long time to get into some conflict and dialog. It's what we writers call an info dump. A lot of set up, a lot of details, and most of it is not needed. In my new version I tried to take all I wanted to say and compact it into one quick paragraph, then get right into some conflict and dialog so I have characters interacting. Let me know what you think of my changes, and as always thanks for stopping by and reading.

Original Opening

Most people love Fridays; Trent Smithton hated them. Those afternoon hours that drag on for everyone else, lingering just before the weekend, flew by for him. While others felt the clock slow down, he worked like a man on the wrong end of an energy rifle. Trent, with his straight black gray sprinkled hair, hated Fridays; but this Friday would take the cake.
His thin fingers sprinted across the keyboard the fastest in these final hours. He was very aware that he was nearing a stopping point; he would have to go home and leave things unfinished. To Trent there never was enough time in the day. If he could he would work 12 hour days all week, and come in on Saturdays. When his green eyes weren't analizing market trends, or guiding his soft office hands to make stock trades, then he wasn't happy. Sure he had a wife and two kids at home, living the dream; but his heart was in his work. After all, it was his work which afforded his family a nice house and all the things that kept them happy while he was away in his office all day. Except now, due to cutbacks, he couldn't work anymore overtime. So when he noticed that he only had thirty minutes left to finish his work, he cursed the current state of his planet's economy. At least they were going to Tina's parents this weekend. He liked his wife's old man, he had always understood Trent and his drive towards work. "Working is good for a man," he would always say. Trent had promised his wife the family would spend more time together, so he suggested they go visit her folks for the weekend. At least he had something to look forward to, and Grandma's cooking wasn't too bad either. As he pushed those thoughts away to focus on his work he saw something out of the corner of his eye. The light on his office phone blinked, and then made the familiar tone. The sound made him jump a bit. He was still used to hearing phones outside of his office go off all day long, but now there were no calls coming into those cubicles. The office was now barren and silent. He picked up the phone.
"Yes Mr. Tops?"
"Hi Trent, could you come in here for a moment?"
"Sure, I'll be right in." 
As Trent entered Mr. Tops's office, the same thought he'd had a million times scrolled through his brain. Even after getting to know the man, this wasn't what you would expect for the VP's office. It was too cheery. Sky blue walls, family pictures covering every surface. It was a room ill suited for its purpose.
"Close the door would you Trent?"
"Sure."
The blood drained from Trent's face. Mr. Tops cleared his throught as he tried to stop the well of emotions from flowing into his voice.
"As you've heard in our meetings Trent, the company isn't doing so well these days."
Trent, usually verbose with positive words to score browny points could only get out,
"It's a tough market out there right now sir."
"Yes that's one way to put it. I'd say it's a dead market out there; it's just killing us. People's faith in the stock market, and their ability to use it to make money, is in terrible shape right now. I don't see things getting any better any time soon. You've got a great track record Trent, and have done well. In all of your performance reviews, we've been honest in telling you, you're one of the best employees we've got. Now you've seen a lot of people being let go here, we've had to make severe cutbacks just to keep our heads above the water, and I know you've helped with that. Keeping your remaining clients as positive as anyone can. But where we stand ... I just can't keep paying you for the good work you're doing for us."
Mr. Tops stopped and looked down at nothing in particular.
"Now I've been dreading this moment all week, I hate this Trent; but the fact remains," his face held a genuine look of sympathy as it looked up to face Trent,
"There's nothing else I can do."
He stopped and looked down again, unable to look Trent in the eye, who's responce was immediate.
"I can't belive this. I'm the best stock broker you've got! I've helped make this company what it is! What do you mean there is nothing else you can do. You can fire somebody else!"
"There is no one else Trent, you know that."
"So, you're going to handle my remaining clients then? You'll probably lose most of them, and..."
"Believe me Trent, I've tried coming up with any way to keep you on, but it's just not possible."
The office grew silent for a moment, and then Mr. Tops spoke again.
"I have however, made you this."
He slid a memory card across his desk.
"It's a personal recommendation from me. There's an explanation of why I had to let you go, and a full report of your excellent service to our company. I truly hope you can find a great job out there Trent. And I hope this helps you. Please encourage any possible employers to call my direct line, I'll tell them all about the great things you've done for us here. Your next employer will be lucky to have you Trent. In the mean time, maybe this will give you a little more time with that beautiful family of yours."
Trent's expression never changed; his eyes didn’t drop to the data card. He stood and walked out the door, leaving it on the desk without saying another word.

New Opening


Most people love Fridays. Trent Tradesman hated them. While others felt the clock slow down, he raced against his dread of leaving things unfinished over the weekend. He was interrupted by a call from his boss.
“Hi Jim, what’s up?”
“Trent, I need to see you in my office please.”
No hello back, no customary cheerful tone. This can’t be good, Trent thought as he walked past silent empty cubicles.
"Close the door, please."
A bleak pallor swept across Trent's face as he pulled the door shut behind him with an ominous click. Mr. Stipple cleared his throat and leaned forward in his ancient chair as Trent took a seat.
"I'm just going to get to the point here Trent."
"OK."
"As you know, the company isn't doing so well these days," Mr. Stipple said. He shifted in his chair again. The chair was known around the office as old yeller, because with every slight movement it creaked and moaned like it was crying to be put down. Trent thought it sounded like it wanted to be rolled away to some place where no butt could ever sit in it again. Mr. Stipple’s butt had in it since his first day at the company.
Trent tried to ignore the screams of the chair and said,
"It's a tough market out there right now sir."
"Yes that's one way to put it. I'd say it's a dead market. It's just killing us. People's faith in it is gone, and I don't see things getting better any time soon.”
Mr. Stipple stopped and cracked a measured smile before continuing.
“You have done well here Trent. In all of your performance reviews, I've been honest in telling you, you're my best. Now you've seen all of your coworkers go; we've had to make severe cutbacks just to keep our heads above the water. I know you have helped with that, keeping your remaining clients as positive as anyone could, but where we stand,"
Mr. Stipple stopped and looked down at nothing in particular.
"I've been dreading this all week, I hate this Trent; but the fact remains. . ."
He looked back up with genuine sympathy.
"There's nothing else I can do. I just can't keep paying you for the good work you're doing for us. I've delayed this for far too long; I'm going to have to make this your last day. I'm sorry."
He stopped and looked down again to miss Trent’s immediate response.
"Let me get this straight. You are willing to keep that creaking old chair around, but not me?”
Mr. Stipple’s head snapped back up as Trent continued.
“I've helped make this company what it is! What do you mean there is nothing else you can do? You can fire somebody else! Fire the receptionist!"
"There is no one else Trent, you know that. Even she has to go. I've given her until the end of the month."
"So what, you are going to handle the remaining clients then? You'll probably lose most of them and,"
Mr. Stipple interrupted him.
"Believe me Trent I've tried coming up with a way to keep you on, but it's just not possible. I’ve been over it again and again. I’m sorry."
The office grew silent for a moment. Trent's face began to redden.
"I have however, made you this."
He slid a data card across his desk.
"It's a personal recommendation from me. There's an explanation of why I had to let you go, and a full report of your phenomenal work here. I hope you can find a great job out there Trent, and I hope this helps you. Please encourage any possible employers to call my direct line. I'll tell them all about the great things you've done for us here. Your next employer will be lucky to have you Trent. In the mean while, maybe this will give you a little more time with that beautiful family of yours."
Trent's face looked like a ripe tomato. He stood and walked to the door, leaving the data card on the desk. In the doorway he spun, failing to keep his mouth shut.
"You're making the biggest mistake of your life! This company is doomed without me! The only reason you have stayed afloat this long is because of me!"
He grabbed the door handle.
"Good luck with your retirement ... Mr. Nipples!" he said, and then slammed the door; rattling the framed pictures on the wall.

Monday, October 10, 2011

6 Goals Podcast Ep. 20 (With a Reading from Ch. 2 in My work in Progess SciFi Novel)

Download the .mp3

In this episode (of the 6 Goals Podcast) I make up for not publishing a podcast in weeks and weeks with a special bonus - a reading from chapter two in my work in progress science ficion novel, and a short running spot. Thanks for sticking around, and I'll keep my schedule of posting every Monday going from now on to the best of my ability.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Need Your Honest Opinion - Book Cover

I'm creating the cover for my first podcast novel, and I need your honest opinion. The one below uses a photo that I'll end up replacing with a similar image I'll generate in 3D and with photoshop, but it will basically look like it does now. So tell me, if you where looking to pick up a Science Fiction adventure novel for $2.99, would this cover grab your attention? Is there anything you would change? Anything look kinda cheesy? Thanks for your honesty.

Click on the image to see a larger version of it.

Short Stories of DanDanTheArtMan 09 - Bullets and Tears

Download the .mp3
(Right Click, Save Target As...)


I had a short story published by an online eZine publisher who runs a short story contest called Fiction Tuesday! It's about soldiers sent to rescue children who have been made soldiers themselves. You can read it on their website or listen to my recording of it with sound effects. I had a blast writing it and putting the recording together, and I think you'll have a blast reading it or listening to it. Below is the link to my story, and please enjoy listening to it here after some chatter and updates. Enjoy and thanks for stopping by!

Flying Island Press - Pirates Cove
http://flyingislandpress.com/cove/fiction-tuesday/writing-contest-fiction-tuesday/

Promo at the end of the Podcast was for John Mierau's new Podiobook Asunder at:
http://servingworlds.com/

Friday, September 16, 2011

Videogame Memories 13 | Laith Preston
GUEST BLOG POST

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Thinking back I have a hard time placing what the first video game I played. Computer games of one form or another have been a part of my life for so long that it is hard to pick out when we first met. While considering this many happy memories float to the surface of my mind.
 
I remember many hours spent with my Mom waiting at the Kansas City airport for Dad’s flight to arrive, as I mastered the intricacies of a little hopping guy and a snake. To my recollection I got fairly good at Q*Bert in those days. In my mind this wonderfully addictive game endures as one of the great early games.

The next machine over was Joust. I never really got Joust. I mean seriously ostriches? What kind of messed up world do the soldiers ride around on freaking ostriches?

I then spent years in a close relationship with a console.

It all started with stick, a big red button and a triangle. Yes, I’m talking about Asteroids on the Atari 2600. I remember spending many hours in my elementary and middle school years playing games on this venerable system. Pitfall, Zaxxon, River Raid... ah the memories, yes even Pong.

Then in 1988 I was introduced to what would become my new love, the personal computer. I wrote my first program on a good old grey box TRS-80. Many games, many good times, on one PC or another. Many, many failed attempts to write game programs in BASIC, but the path of my future was set in these early days.

When others were spending time engaged in Mortal Kombat, I was far more likely to be spending time wandering the world of Myst, or dialed in to one BBS or another playing various text based games.

In my college days in an attempt to relieve class related stresses I got back to basics with various Rouge-like games and my favorite harking back to my gaming origins, the Asteroids update for Mac, Maelstrom. My wife can tell you I probably spent way too much time on these.

Now a days I don’t spend nearly as much time on games as I used to, have a Wii but mostly it gets used for Netflix streaming or my daughters playing their own games. Yes, the gaming circle of life is complete as I pass the torch to new new generation.



Laith Preston is a voracious reader, aspiring writer and jack of manytrades. When he is not at his day job as a web application developer,he can be found wasting way too much time on various pastimes in DesMoines, Iowa, with his wife, three kids and the cat. You can find hisaimless meanderings at his blog, http://laith.wordpress.com/.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Videogame Memories 12 | Justin Macumber
GUEST BLOG POST

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The earliest writing I ever did were adventures for my friends to play through in Dungeons & Dragons. We were just kids, and we couldn't afford store bought modules, so I saw it as my duty to create stories that we could all have fun with. Plenty of monsters to fight, dastardly arch-villains to overcome, kingdoms to save, and priceless treasures to uncover. For a kid not even in spitting distance of his teenage years, it was a thrilling undertaking, and one that I didn't take lightly. As I grew older I branched out into short stories -- even giddily contemplated writing a novel -- and fantasy was the genre I stuck with. Most of the books I read where fantasies, as were the movies I enjoyed, the comic books, and the cartoons. It was a genre I felt really comfortable with.

But, around the time I entered high school, relatives suggested that I give horror a try. King and Koontz were the authors they recommended, and I was quickly swept away. It was an amazing thrill to pick up these new authors and discover the joy of being terrified out of my mind. My writing, as you might imagine, followed suit.

One genre that I never dared tried to write, though, was science fiction. My favorite film of all time, Star Wars, is a science fiction movie, but for whatever reason I grew up thinking that only brilliant people could write the genre. I mean, it was right there in the name - SCIENCE fiction. What did I know about science? I barely knew where the moon was, so how I could write about people in far flung places doing things I couldn't begin to understand or describe. Science fiction was a genre I adored, a genre I consumed with an insatiable appetite, but it was the one genre I didn't believe I could write in. That changed when I played the Wing Commander series of computer games.

Now, I'm a 38 year-old guy, so I'm of the first generation that really grew up with video games. I fondly remember playing Berserk and River Raid on my Atari 2600 using a small black and white television. When I would go to my uncle's house, we would play Warlords and Kaboom on his big color TV, and that was like a revelation. On long drives I always took my Pac-Man mini arcade game and annoyed everyone in the car with the incessant beeping and booping. How they stood it, I'll never know. And in every mall I ever walked into I always headed right for the arcade to play games like Gauntlet, Altered Beast, Afterburner, and Tron. It was an amazing time to be a kid, watching technology grow and grow right before my eyes.

Unlike a lot of my contemporaries, around the time the Nintendo came out I was too deep into computer games to notice. I didn't play Zelda or Super Mario Bros. much. I was busy playing Ultima, King's Quest, and Sid Meier's Pirates! on the Tandy 1000 SX my family owned. That baby had two 5.25" floppy drives and was capable of outputting 16 colors! Simultaneously! The number of hours I plunged into those old games is mindboggling to think about now, but it all went into my brain, shaping who I was and who I was becoming. Computer games were my life's blood.

Sadly, the ol' Tandy couldn't last forever. Though I'm sure it still works for whoever it was we ended up selling it to, when 1993 rolled around it was just too old. All of the newer games needed more memory and processing power than it could provide. So, using money I earned from my own sweat and tears, I bought an Acer computer. I wish I could remember the specs on it now, but suffice it to say it did everything I wanted it to and more. And, it came with a CD-ROM drive, which opened a whole new world of experiences. Now able to play the new games, I dove in headfirst. It was a heady time, but the defining moment came when I saw a magazine ad for the upcoming Wing Commander game. It was Wing Commander 3: Heart Of The Tiger. I hadn't played the previous Wing Commander games because my old computer wasn't powerful enough, so I had no idea what they were about, but all I had to see what that picture of Mark Hamill in the ad and the text that said the game featured loads of video footage that told the game's story in a cinematic way never before imagined for a PC game. I was sold. Mark Hamill, star of my favorite movie of all time? Acting in a science fiction video game? Where I got to fly a starfighter around and blow up giant alien cat creatures? Oh hell to the yes! I was nearly vibrating with anticipation.

Thankfully, the game more than lived up to my expectations. Not only was it amazingly good, but the cinematic cutscenes were jaw dropping. I couldn't believe my computer was capable of such wizardry. I played it over and over again, an addict who couldn't get enough. The next game, Wing Commander IV: The Price Of Freedom, was somehow even more amazing. There were new villains to fight, new ships to fly, and new crewmates to fly with, not to mention loads of new cutscenes to enjoy. I was in sci-fi geek heaven.

Once I was done with Wing Commander IV, I didn't want it to stop. I was too jazzed, too filled with ideas of what-if and how-about. So, to give myself an outlet, I decided to write the game's developer, Origin Systems (R.I.P. dear friends), and offer them my take on where they should go next. It was a grand story about a secret project to create A.I. piloted drones capable of fighting the enemy so that human lives could be saved, and how the project went awry, becoming a new threat humanity had to face. You know, the classic tale of our hubris biting us on the tuckus. I followed that up with an idea about a new alien threat coming from beyond the galaxy, but these aliens were far more strange and terrible than the cats we'd fought before. These new threats actually had living ships, coming in shapes large and small, capable of war in ways we never dared think possible. Again, a classic tale of the unknown and our greatest fears.

At the time they seemed like fantastic ideas, and I was excited to write about them. Without even realizing what I was doing, I was writing science fiction. I spent days upon days outlining, plotting, researching, and writing. When I sent them off to Origin, I was pretty certain that I'd be getting a call shortly telling me to move to Austin where they were located and get to work helping them chart the future of Wing Commander. One thing I didn't lack for back then was confidence. I wish I was so cocksure now.

As you can probably guess, that call never came. No messengers arrived with contracts, no emails flew to my inbox. I was disappointed, to be sure, but after awhile I moved on. The only time I became angry was when the next Wing Commander game came out, Wing Commander: Prophecy. It was supposed to be the start of a new campaign with new characters (though Mark Hamill was still in the mix) and a new enemy. To my shock and horror, that new enemy was from beyond our spacethat used living ships. And, the new fighters the humans used were called Tigersharks, which was the name of the new fighters I'd created for my out of control A.I. story. I was dumbstruck.

Now, did Origin steal my ideas? At the time, I was sure of it. There were just too many similarities for that not to be the case. I don't think so anymore, however. Living starships isn't something I'm the first person to think of, nor am I the first person to name a fighter plane after Tigersharks. When I was young I thought I was breaking new ground, but one of the benefits of age is perspective. Plus, I'm sure Prophecy was well under development before my little idea package was put in the mail. Computer games as big as that one aren't made over a weekend. It was merely a case of certain minds thinking alike and coincidental timing.

But that wasn't the end of my love affair with Wing Commander. About a year or so after I sent that package off, I stumbled across some people at AOL (my internet provider at the time) who had a writing club centered on the Wing Commander universe. It was like a chain letter fan fiction club, and I begged to be let in. They were kind enough to do so, and that began my real writing life. Over the course of several years I wrote them enough stories to fill at least two novels, and together we took the club in bold new directions. By the time we disbanded, my character had risen to the rank of Captain and was in command of his own ship of privateers. We loved, we fought, we laughed, and we wrote. I would not be the writer I am today -- for better or ill -- were it not for the Wing Commander Pilots Club. I owe them a debt I'll never be able to repay.

I'm not much of a science fiction writer anymore, but it's not out of any loss of love for the genre. I'm just trying to spread my writing wings and see else I can do. But, science fiction is no longer the boogie man it once was to me, and it's something I'll always love and return to. And I owe that in large part to Origin Systems and their amazing Wing Commander computer games. Much like Star Wars nearly twenty years before it, Wing Commander opened my mind and filled it with wonder. And wonder is the foundation upon which every great story is built. Thank you, Origin Systems, and thank you to my old friends at the WCPC.

Now I see it as my duty, and the duty of every writer out there, to pay it forward and pass that same sense of wonder on to a new generation through the stories we create and the characters we breathe life into. Not all of us will succeed, but we have to try. We have to create and built and explore the strange reaches inside of us. We have to write.

- Justin R. Macumber

Justin Macumber is a happily married fella in his late 30’s, and right now he’s a full time writer and podcaster. He lives in the Dallas/Fort Worth metroplex with his lovely wife of eleven years, and with them is a motley pack of dogs and cats that they think of as their children. Right now he has to say that he is happy, though getting published would go a long way toward making him even happier. Find his work at:

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Videogame Memories 11 | Zach Ricks
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I remember “Chrono Trigger.”

SPOILER ALERT. Warning. This is a game that was originally released in the US for the SNES in 1995, again for the original PlayStation in 2001, again for the Nintendo DS in 2008, and yet again in May of 2011 for the Nintendo Wii Virtual Console. It’s had such a long life because it is the greatest game ever created for any platform, period. I’ve owned it in at least three of these iterations. But because it’s only been recently released for one of these platforms, you might be playing it now for the first time. If so, STOP READING OR LISTENING TO THIS NOW. I am deadly serious.

Cool? Okay.

I don’t remember when I picked it up, or where I first started playing it, but I absolutely remember Chrono Trigger. Oh, I bought it because the artwork was cool, and it was a Squaresoft game, and I knew they did good work because I’d already played and enjoyed the heck out of Final Fantasy III. I remember looking at the Akira Toriyama artwork, and thinking “this looks kind of familiar.” (Toriyama was the artist who created DragonBall and DragonBall Z. There is no DragonBall GT. Doesn’t exist. Shared hallucination. Sad story. Anyway...)

Then I took it home and started playing. Oh, sure, there was some kind of a thing about a fair and then there was this blonde girl who wanted to hang out, and I played some fair games and won a life-size replica of myself. And then my friend wanted me to demonstrate her teleporter… which then tore open a hole in space and time and flung the blonde… someplace. And my character stood up and volunteered to go get her back. He had no way of knowing where she’d gone, how to return, anything. He’d known her for maybe an hour. But he was the kind of guy who was willing to go after her anyway. And I was hooked. I was all in. It was fun, but what really sunk its claws into me and kept me coming back for more and more were the characters and their stories. I met a frog who used to be a man. (And once I discovered his real name, he’s never been anything but Glenn to me). I found myself accused of treason and sentenced to death. I defeated a dragon tank. I travelled to the dark and dismal future and found out that I was going to be fighting some sort of WORLD DEVOURING EVIL. I found out my friend blamed herself for the death of her mother, and because the game involved time travel, I got to give her the chance to make it right. I enjoyed every minute of it. Right up until we faced WORLD DEVOURING EVIL for the first time.

And my protagonist refused to run away. And he died for it. Obliterated. Disintegrated. Dead.

And the game kept going...

I remember sitting in a basement, staring at the television set, dealing with the fact that this character that I’d invested so much time and energy into… this character that represented ME in the game world... this character that I loved... was gone. And while I was doing that, I was watching his companions do the same thing – dealing with their grief at the loss of their friend. I’ve never had a game pull me through that kind of emotional experience, and it’s that moment, and what follows it that has made Chrono Trigger my favorite game of all time. Sure, I take a lot of good-natured ribbing for my love of Pokémon, and that’s been a wild and crazy ride for the last twelve years. (Long story. I blame kindergarteners. Darn kindergarteners.)

But Chrono Trigger continues to be an influence on me because the story was so deep and rich. It hit so many themes – loyalty, family, self-sacrifice, regret, love, tragedy… and ultimately, triumph. And don’t get me started on the music. To this day, I cannot hear the opening theme without getting a little emotional.

If you have a chance to play it, I highly recommend it. It’s the greatest game of the 16-bit era, and I dare say it’s my favorite game of any era. (and it’s like 8 bucks on the Wii virtual console. Seriously.)



Zach Ricks is an attorney, writer, and publisher living in Austin Texas with his wife and one daughter. He’s known for his love of science fiction, fantasy, Pokémon and breakfast tacos. He’s also occasionally a big fat crybaby. Find his writing at http://www.madpoetfiles.com/, and his publishing company at http://www.flyingislandpress.com/.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Videogame Memories 10 | Michell Plested
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I remember the first time I ever saw a video game at someone’s house. The game was Pong (yes, I know I’m dating myself) and it was in black and white on my aunt’s 20” television. I was amazing; for the first time I could actually interact with something on television.

The next ones I remember were at my neighbour’s house. They had a Nintendo Entertainment System - one of the original NES. It was a household filled with kids and I spent the majority of my time sitting, watching others play.

It wasn’t until High School that I actually spent any time playing video games. Living in the country without one of my own, I had to content myself with the occasional trip down to the pool hall and arcade to play with my limited allowance. Games like Tron, Galaga, Space Invaders, I tried them all. I was fascinated with the movement, strategies and, most of all, the technology used to create them.

It wasn’t until my family finally made the plunge and bought a Colecovision that I had anything of my own to play. The best part was, the system also doubled as a computer with a printer, keyboard, word processor and Basic language for programming in.

I think that is when I truly made the decision to work in technology. I took every opportunity to work on computers. I programmed Tandy colour computers at school and eventually graduated from Technical School with a diploma in Computer Technology.

I’ve never looked back. Many years later, I’ve worked in just about every facet of computers you can. Programmer, desktop/server/network support, routing and security. I’ve worked as a Product Manager and as a Project Manager. It’s been a very rewarding career and one that I know was influenced by those early video games.

Little is known about the origins of Michell as they are shrouded (or at least covered with a moth-eaten towel) by the mists of time. What is known is largely obscure and often contradictory. Oh and he sometimes speaks about himself in the third person. One thing that is known to be absolutely true is he is a perfectionist (a nice way of saying anal) as can be evidenced by the number of iterations it took him to write the first chapter (completely) of his first book (31). On the subject of his first book, Michell is always more than happy to discuss, often to excess, the trials and tribulations he has faced. He usually misses those visual cues to shut-up or change the subject (like the audience falling asleep or simply walking away).

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

I Won my First Short Story Contest!

I had a short story published today by an online eZine publisher who runs a short story contest called Fiction Tuesday! You can read it on their website or listen to my recording of it with sound effects. I had a blast writing it and putting the recording together, and I think you'll have a blast reading it or listening to it. Here's the link to my story:

http://flyingislandpress.com/cove/2011/08/16/fiction-tuesday-2/

Enjoy and thanks for stopping by!

Friday, August 12, 2011

Videogame Memories 09 | Laura Nicole
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A chick with a game controller is hot... or that's what I was told anyway. I didn't play video games much when I was younger. This is mostly because I was outside rollerblading, camping, or taking my dog Lady for long walks in the woods. When I got older I learned to appreciate the artistry of video games through watching my friends play Final Fantasy, Zelda, and the like. I loved the story lines and how the game made you interact with the story and you could see the consequences that your choices had for the character.

When I went into the Army is when I really started to move from a button masher to an actual console queen. Street Fighter, Soul Caliber and those games were my favorites to play. They had beautiful female characters with amazing, paralyzing moves that I learned to master. Naturally, all of my male counterparts wanted to take me on and I think I only lost a handful of times but those few times lead to some good conversations.

Later on in life, I gave MMO's a try. Not my cup of tea. The biggest reason is that if I want to hang out with people, I like it to be face to face with no other distractions like a group from another faction trying to gank you. RPGs on the other hand are my favorite way to escape when I want to be more than an observer as I am while reading a book. Right now my favorite is Dragon Age: Origins, Though Neverwinter Nights 2 is up there on the list.



So that's my spiel on video games. I hope you all enjoy. I am really looking forward to Dan's new work, and I hope you all will stay tuned. To find out more about what projects I am working on, you can visit my site at http://www.gypsylaura.com/ or http://www.scrivenerscircle.com/.